When I was a young newlywed, I cooked almost every day. I planned meals once a week. I shopped regularly, if not daily.
I also spent enough to feed a small country. In fact, in 1994 I spent more on groceries for two people and occasional guests as I did in 2006 to feed a family with five children!
One of the causes of my overspending was that I bought whatever I wanted whenever I wanted it. Our cupboards and fridge were almost always bursting at the seams. As was the trash bin.
I sigh at how much food and money I once wasted.
Now, almost twenty years later, I've learned a few things about managing money and food storage. And I am a huge fan of The Pantry Challenge.
If you've been following along with Stephanie over the last month, you've had an inside look at a pantry challenge. Maybe you've even had a taste of it yourself by playing along.
A Pantry Challenge is a wonderful way to make the most of what you already have.
Eating down the pantry is a twice yearly ritual of mine. I set aside the months of January and July each year to use up what we have and hopefully save some cash. After several years of doing this, I've learned a lot about the benefits and value of this practice.
1. I waste less.
When I make a concerted effort to use what we have, I end up throwing away less. Leftovers are gobbled up for lunch or get remade into something tasty and different, like soup or stir fry.
I tend to keep my refrigerator cleaner and more organized, so things don't go bad before I am able to use them. I'm able to rotate the stockpile of pantry items so that we use things before they hit their "best by" dates.
2. I learn to make do.
In the old days, I would run to the grocery store if I needed any ingredient for a recipe. This means that I would spend $30 when all I went for was a head of garlic. I ended up finding other things to buy while I was there, and the trip cost me much more than it should have.
During a Pantry Challenge, I learn to go without or make something else work just as well as the usual. Maybe we use garlic powder instead of fresh cloves. Maybe I serve chicken and gravy over rice instead of potatoes. Maybe I add red pepper to a salad for color instead of tomatoes.
After all, it's just one meal, and it all works out fine in the end.
3. I discover old (and new) favorite ingredients.
While I'm rifling through my cupboards during a challenge, I find all kinds of things I forgot I had.
:: Oh! We have all these chocolate chips? Let's make cookies!
:: I didn't know that we had all this quinoa. Let's make a salad!
In the process of eating down the pantry, I get reacquainted with old favorites and am inspired to use them up.
4. I learn what not to buy.
On the other hand, I also get to face the music when it comes to poor purchases. I am reminded or discover what not to buy in the future, thus avoiding more poor purchases.
:: Why did I buy this almond paste when my daughter is allergic to nuts?
:: Note to self: never buy this kind of pasta again.
5. I am more creative.
Twice a year when I batten down the hatches and make a concerted effort to eat what we already have in the kitchen, I find that I'm more creative in the kitchen. That marinated steak salad at the top of the page? A result of a pantry challenge. The dish has become a family favorite.
Learning to make do and rediscovering old and new favorite ingredients often results in great recipe development that I wasn't suspecting.
6. I save money.
Limiting my shopping saves us money. To some this is a novel idea. You mean you don't have to go grocery shopping every week -- or every day? No. Most of us have several weeks' worth of food stored somewhere in our homes. We often overbuy.
Eating down the pantry helps us lose the excess and keep in our wallets the money we might have spent.
There are huge benefits to using what you already have. Good stewardship and good eats can be a package deal when you do a Pantry Challenge.